2006-08-02 / Local News

Asheville VA terminates agreement with county

By LARRY HILLIARD Ledger Staff Writer larry@gaffneyledger.com

Volunteers who drive county veterans to the Asheville VA Medical Center are part of the center's Volunteer Transportation Network.

Not anymore.

The Asheville VA has terminated its 15-year agreement with the county, according to a letter to Cherokee County Veterans Affairs officer Sammie Willard. The move was made when the local veterans affairs office failed to comply with the requirements in the VHA Handbook, the letter said.

In order to receive Federal Torts Claim coverage, the VHA Handbook requires advance notice of travel, names of drivers and lists of the passengers.

"The dedicated drivers from Cherokee County inform us that your office prepares the passenger list and they have no knowledge of who they are transporting prior to picking up the transportation vehicle," the letter said. "Though Voluntary Service has made repeated attempts to encourage the Cherokee County Veterans Affairs to support this advance notice with a phone call using our 1-800 number the day before, we continue to have volunteer drivers appear unexpectedly.

"...During the last telephone attempt on July 3, you stated your refusal to make the required telephone notification," the letter continued.

Willard said he refused to comply with the requirements since the local Veterans Affairs vehicles are owned by the county and covered under the county's liability plan.

He added he didn't want to force his volunteer drivers to comply with the required training and health evaluations.

"They are volunteers," he said. "The drivers who don't want to jump through all (the VHA Handbook) hoops, don't have to. They are not Disabled American Veterans vans, and we have coverage by the county."

Willard said the matter became a controversy because disgruntled volunteer drivers no longer qualify for a $3.50 complementary meal at the medical center.

"It's all about the meals," he said.

Cherokee County Interim Administrator Ben Clary said he supports Willard's actions.

"We pay our tort liability," Clary said. "We have blanket coverage for anybody acting on behalf of the county. It just seems to me that somebody made Sammie mad."

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